Aloha Poke Co. is a Chicago based restaurant chain with 6 locations in California, Colorado, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington DC, and Illinois. The company claims to have used its ALOHA POKE mark since 2016 and obtained a federal trademark registration for its mark in 2017. Things seemed to be going pretty well for the young company until it made the decision to send a legal demand letter to a single location restaurant in Honolulu called Aloha Poke Shop.
Aloha Poke Shop makes fresh poke bowls, which is a traditional Hawaiian dish. The restaurant is not open on the weekends and only for 9 hours Mondays through Friday. The company did not file a trademark application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to register the name of its restaurant.
The company was outraged that a company from Chicago, IL had the nerve to tell a Hawaiian company that it cannot use the word ALOHA. Aloha Poke Co. disclaimed the word POKE from its mark, which is an acknowledgment that others are free to use that term in their mark. To express their outrage, the single location restaurant in Honolulu started a petition to demand that the Chicago-based company stop using the culturally significant Hawaiian words ALOHA and POKE. They were able to secure 150,000 signatures for the petition. A FaceBook Live video was also uploaded urging people to sign the petition and the video has been viewed 78,000 times.
This situation is another great example that context matters in trademark law. There was nothing to correct on the Principal Register and Aloha Poke Shop’s use of its name in Honolulu was having no impact on the overall strength of Aloha Poke Co.’s mark. There was no reason to send the legal demand letter. Clearly, Aloha Poke Co. did not anticipate the cultural sensitivity the Hawaiian people have to their language, and as a result will likely be unable to expand its business to Hawaii successfully now even if its trademark registration legally allows it to expand there.